Hackers Target Power Plants and Physical Systems

As the most popular operating system in use around the globe, Microsoft Windows is also the most targeted OS for cyber criminals looking to steal data and exploit systems. In the past when hackers attacked a system, they were often looking to steal or change data to suit their needs.

However, cyber attacks and malicious code are now being designed that look to actually take over systems that perform functions in major companies including critical systems in the financial and power industries. Many of these attacks are executed taking advantage of security holes in the Windows operating system.

The U.S. government has created a team of security experts to help industrial firms prepare for a new onslaught of hackers that are bent on taking over the physical systems of power plants and other industry hardware. The reason that the U.S. government is creating a team to help private companies is because as much as 85% of the critical infrastructure for power and other utilities are owned by private firms.

The Canadian Press reports that many attacks have occurred overseas where hackers were trying to take over physical systems rather than steal data. Hackers are targeting power plants increasingly and recent attacks have officials in America concerned.

"People are recognizing that the ability to impact industrial control systems has increased," said Sean McGurk, director of control systems security for DHS. "This type of malicious code and others we've seen recently are actually attacking the physical components, the devices that open doors, close doors, build cars and open gates. They're not just going after the ones and zeros (of a computer code); they're going after the devices that actually produce or conduct physical processes."

One of the latest computer worms that could take over physical systems is the Stuxnet worm. The worm is able to potentially infect computer systems because networks and operating systems in many power plants are very old and haven't been patched with new security fixes. The networks are also often not firewalled from access by high traffic networks and at times are not separated from the internet.

The DHS has been deploying its teams of security experts around the country to assess weaknesses in systems. These teams are also called in to help companies identify and fix networks and computers after cyber attacks. So far the security teams have been dispatched to provide assistance 13 times, in nine of the instances the attacks were deliberate, and four were an unintended result of an operator's action. -Daily Tech



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